While No One Was Looking, Congress Eliminated An Alternative Route To College
In a December action that has gone largely unnoticed in the education community, Congress eliminated an important route to higher education for non-traditional students. Presently, students without a high school diploma or GED can demonstrate college-ready proficiency by passing a federally designated test and win eligibility for Title IV federal aid programs like Pell Grants and student loans. This route to college is designated “Ability to Benefit” or ATB. As of July 1, 2012, students without high school credentials will no longer qualify for Title IV federal aid, effectively closing this alternative route to college.
It may surprise some in the educational community that we have admitted uncredentialed students to college and supported them with federal grants and loans. Superficially, it appears to call into question our societal commitment to promoting high school completion. But, understood in a larger context, this alternative route to college for older students is a manifestation of America’s unique commitment to educational second chances.
Students who don’t go the conventional route — out of high school and into college at age 18 — have multiple re-entry points to education. In consequence, even though we have lost a little ground to other advanced post-industrial countries in rate of college completion by traditional-age students, we still surpass all other countries in bachelor’s degree completion among adults over 35 years of age. This flexibility of educational opportunity has served us particularly well in light of our pronounced and well-documented disparities in family wealth and K-12 educational outcomes.
Metropolitan College of New York has not actively recruited ATB students, but we accept older students who successfully complete the test and meet our other entrance requirements. In 2011 almost half of our freshmen entered with non-conventional high school credentials. Most of these students earned GEDs, but 12 percent entered through the ATB route. Even then, less than one third of our ATB applicants pass the test. It is a screen for the able — not a backdoor to college for the unskilled.
There is still a window of opportunity for students to take advantage of ATB. To do so they must pass an ATB test and enroll in college before July 1. If they don’t, they will have to earn a high school diploma or a GED to qualify for federal student aid. Time is short. #
Dr. Vinton Thompson is the president of Metropolitan College of New York